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A story within a story is a literary device in which one character within a narrative narrates. The inner stories are told either simply to entertain or more usually to act as an example to the other characters. In either case the story often has symbolic and psychological significance for the characters in the outer story. There is often some parallel between the two stories, and the fiction of the inner story is used to reveal the truth in the outer story. The literary device of stories within a story dates back to a device known as a frame story, when the outer story does not have much matter and most of the bulk of the work consists of one or more complete stories told by one or more storytellers. Often the stories within a story are used to satirize views, not only in the outer story, but also in the real world.
Stories within a story may disclose the background of characters or events, tell of myths and legends that influence the plot, or even seem to be extraneous diversions from the plot. The provenance of the story is sometimes explained internally, as in The Lord of the Rings by J. When a story is told within another instead of being told as part of the plot, it allows the author to play on the reader’s perceptions of the characters—the motives and the reliability of the storyteller are automatically in question. In some cases, the story within a story is involved in the action of the plot of the outer story.
An inner story is often independent, so that it can either be skipped over or be read separately, although many subtle connections may be lost. Sometimes, the inner story serves as an outlet for discarded ideas that the author deemed to be of too much merit to leave out completely, something that is somewhat analogous to the inclusion of deleted scenes with DVD releases of films. With the rise of literary modernism, writers experimented with ways in which multiple narratives might nest imperfectly within each other. Other prime examples of experimental modernist works that incorporate multiple narratives into one story are various novels written by the American author Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut includes the recurring character Kilgore Trout in many of his novels. In The Amory Wars, a tale told through the music of Coheed and Cambria, tells a story for the first two albums but reveals that the story is being actively written by a character called the Writer in the third.
During the album, the Writer delves into his own story and kills one of the characters, much to the dismay of the main character. Several Star Trek tales are stories or events within stories, such as Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, J. The Quantum Leap novel Knights Of The Morningstar also features a character who writes a book by that name. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon has several characters seeing a play called The Courier’s Tragedy by the fictitious Jacobean playwright Richard Wharfinger.